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Movie Review: I Am Legend

I Am Legend
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Written by Akiva Goldsman and Mark Protosevich from the 1971 screenplay The Omega Man by John William Corrington and Joyce H. Corrington from the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Warner Bros.

I can’t imagine after watching I Am Legend that this has anything to do with The Omega Man as described by Dr. Sam Loomis on this site, but the Corringtons are credited here.  With the writer’s strike threatening the movie slate for 2009, we might be seeing a lot of these old scripts getting dusted off for remakes, without any new writers credited at all.

The story of I Am Legend has the same kind of feel as something like Castaway (or its predecessor Robinson Crusoe): a man who is alone must survive by hunting for food, learning new tricks, and taking extremely good care of himself, considering that there isn’t a doctor around.  Of course, Robinson Crusoe never had to fend off bloodthirsty vampires.  Nor did Tom Hanks.

Robert Neville (Will Smith, who I think has crossed the barrier between movie star and good actor and has become both) is a former lieutenant colonel who is the last man standing in New York City.  He has his dog Sam with him, and every day is the same routine: hunt for food, get back before dark.  In his apartment on now-desolate Washington Square he has a lab where he’s been trying to find a cure for the virus that has caused 90% of the world’s population to die out and the survivors into vampires, or a reasonable facsimile.

Just before the virus did irreparable damage to the world, Neville was on his way to finding the cure, but much too late.  We see flashbacks of the evacuation of New York City and how it affected his wife Zoe (Salli Richardson) and daughter Marley (Smith’s daughter Willow, making the second straight year his own spawn has played his onscreen kid).  We know they’re not with him now, so what happened?  And is he really the only survivor?

Rest assured, some mistakes do happen and he gets himself into danger; this is where the horror/action takes place.  For the first two thirds of this film, director Lawrence (who did the pretty awful Constantine) follows the example of James Gray (We Own the Night) and the Coen Brothers (No Country for Old Men) with less-is-more intensity using minimal soundtrack and only glimpses of the monsters, making the movie quite scary.  The creaky final third does away with this, and I hated the fact that the monsters had some sort of rudimentary facial expressions, especially since the CG starts to look way too cartoonish.

Remember back in 1996 when Will Smith had officially become a summer action star (after getting a big kickstart with 1995’s Bad Boys) with Independence Day?  He was fun to watch but he certainly wasn’t an actor by any means.  Back then we could be excused for thinking that a clean rapper who went on to do the lighthearted sitcom Fresh Prince of Bel Air had reached the extent of his range.  But now, he has erased a lot of that self-awareness as an actor and nothing he does seems overly measured.  He’s quite the performer.

So I Am Legend is good overall.  I wish I could remake the third act.  It keeps a few details of Matheson’s source material, but it’s really overall unlike the story he wrote, which is OK because the bare-bones premise is still there.  By the way, Warner Bros. has put some fun in this release.  You’ll get to see the first real trailer for The Dark Knight and there’s a worn-down Times Square banner in the first ten minutes of the movie that suggests a long-gestating project finally got made…perhaps in the next decade.  It’s either cheeky or an announcement, I’m not sure which.


Comment from Sam Loomis
Time: December 13, 2007, 1:17 pm

I can’t believe the Corrington’s got referenced. Sounds like it might be the best adaptation yet; looking forward to it.

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